Monday, June 18, 2012

BECOMING NEAPOLITAN


In his New Year’s address for 2012 the British Prime Minister sought to rally a demoralized people saddled with debts, recession, and unemployment in the face of a continuing policy of wholesale transfer of assets from public to private, by reminding them of the forthcoming Olympic Games and the Queen’s Jubilee. There was something redolent of early modern Naples in the promise of bread and circuses, the emphasis on display rather than substance, the insistence on a glorious past and (hastily reinvented) tradition, and the conjuring of the allure and excitement of feasts, festivals and pomp to divert and distract, reassure and unify a divided and potentially disaffected citizen body. John Marino’s book argues that, in the face of the dispossession and exploitation of the poor of Naples, the elites mounted fabulous festivals, parties and celebrations, and threw in their lot with the Spanish against the popolo. Indeed court culture emerges as a monstrous seduction of its elites, narcissistic and self-serving. It feels a familiar story; yet Marino tells it by drawing together a rich variety of sources – visual, artistic, ephemeral, hagiographic, ludic, literary, and legal.

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